July 16, 2014
This Time, We Count
One of our writers, Craig Goldstein, had an idea for the All-Star game that we didn’t get to, though I thought it had some merit: Which All-Star games have “belonged” to which players? Last year’s “belonged” to Mariano Rivera, for instance. Cal Ripken’s final game “belonged” to Cal Ripken, and so on. This year’s belonged to Derek Jeter like nothing in baseball has ever belonged to anything else. Bud Selig’s retirement was limited to a two-question commercial-break interruption. Tony Gwynn’s death was not even mentioned, not once. Neither was the death of Ralph Kiner. There was no aside noting that Tim McCarver was enjoying retirement after calling more All-Star games with Joe Buck than any broadcast duo in history. This was all Jeter’s.
How much so? I counted every time Jeter’s name was said during the game, and I counted every time the camera showed Jeter in a non-necessary shot, i.e., not while he was batting, running the bases, fielding a ball, etc. This wasn’t an original idea; Paul Boye was counting Jeter mentions and camera shots before he got exhausted by the task in the fourth inning. Deadspin’s Timothy Burke, more resourceful than me, counted the mentions in the closed captioning logs. Heavens, do I wish I’d thought to do that (or knew how to do that). Thanks to him, you can even watch every instance, some of which came in the pre-game (which I didn’t count).
I also counted every other player’s mentions. Partly to put Jeter’s ownership of this All-Star game in perspective. Partly because I was just curious if it would turn into something interesting. The results:
Pretty good! As for the rest,
The guys who did things:
The second-tier stars
The guys America just got introduced to, briefly:
The All-Stars at least one of the three announcers had never heard of:
Hunter Pence/unused bench players:
There needs to be an All-Star Ownership stat to put this in perspective—ratio of one player’s mentions to the next highest, or something. If my count is close to correct, Jeter’s mentions outnumber the cumulative mentions of 28 other All-Stars. They match the combined mentions of the game’s MVP, the MVP runner-up, the winning pitcher, and the guy who got the save.
And you know what? It was pretty great. For much of Jeter’s career, there’s been a backlash to his legend; naturally, there’s been a backlash to the backlash. The simple fact that defensive metrics see what so many others don’t probably set back the mainstream acceptance of advanced defensive metrics some years. Meanwhile, the inverse—the fact that he kept winning Gold Glove awards and his perceived infallibility seemed to grow stronger despite the stats—put a lot of us in that awkward position of arguing against a player we knew was an all-time great. It was a weird place to have a fight, but there it was.
The tribute at the All-Star Game, though, seemed to have a pretty appropriate sense of perspective. Few claims were made about his abilities or his career that would cause us to run to Twitter fact-checking (though I flinched when I heard Joe Buck say just after the game ended that Mike Trout might someday be as good as Jeter, or something along those lines). We weren’t told that he was an elite defender. There was little said about his so-called clutchness, unless you count the recitation of his excellent All-Star stats. Nobody stretched to claim that Jeter is currently a great player, or to say that he’s the greatest shortstop in history, or that he single-handedly won all those Yankees World Series.
Rather, this broadcast was about something else. It was about appreciating that Derek Jeter is fun to be around. It showed us, via field-level microphones that caught his conversations with the catcher and with baserunners, that he’s a bit of a charmer and that he acknowledges even the All-Stars you’ll forget were ever All-Stars. It showed us, in his pre-game clubhouse speech, that he’s restrained and moderate, that he doesn’t put on a false intensity or feel the need to amplify his personality. It showed us, in his in-game interview, that he can bust Harold Reynolds’ balls better than most of Twitter can, and that there probably actually is an inner monologue that runs deeper than the controversy-proof quotes he generally gives. And it showed us, in the way that his “teammates” from other teams stood and watched him, and in the way people spoke of him, and in the earnest admiration most people in the stadium seemed to have for him, that he was, more or less, what they told us he was: Something People Like. A pop song with a good hook and a certain timelessness.
I was bummed when he left the game. I wanted to see him bat again, to get a third hit, maybe a fourth, to see him get hits on grooved fastballs for as long as they’d leave the lights on. Jeter’s fun to be around. While everybody was arguing about 15 runs of defense per year, I missed what the other guys were saying: “We like him. He makes us happier. Why begrudge us that?”
Other people were counting things, too. While he watched last night, Craig Goldstein counted hits to the opposite field: Five. Two of them were by Jeter, fittingly. One was by Mike Trout, fittingly.
And if you’re counting balls hit the other way, then you start wondering about defensive positioning. Matt Sussman counted infield shifts; there were none. Is this a betrayal of the This Time It Counts mantra? Is it unsporting to try too hard in an exhibition game where nearly every competitive action is undercut by a winking counterproductive substitution? Is it that there is no advance scouting for a game like this, so the managers and coaching staffs were flying blind? Are shifts eschewed because, like politics and sex, there are just certain controversial topics that you don’t discuss at a dinner party of casual acquaintances? Is the unfamiliarity of playing with infielders you’ve never played alongside disorienting enough that nobody wants to risk injury or miscommunication on a slightly more complicated arrangement? Or is everybody just too tired and distracted to add another set of plays to their preparations? Maybe a little of everything? It's probably mostly the “trying too hard” one.
By the same logic, then, we might expect pitchers to throw fewer off-speed pitches; curveballs are unsporting in an All-Star game, right? Or maybe, since they’re facing exclusively the best hitters in the world, they might throw more off-speed pitches, as the only way to survive. Or they might throw more fastballs simply because they’re being used in short bursts, when their fastballs will play up. What’s your guess?
Well, here are the non-fastball rates of all the pitchers in the game last night, along with their season rates. Looks like some pitchers bought the first argument, and others the second:
Weighting these pitchers based on how many pitches they threw, we’d expect 95 non-fastballs to have been thrown last night. There were actually 103, more than expected, and that’s with Wainwright feeding Jeter pipe balls. Just wanted to say that phrase at least once.